[Marxism] The ghosts of 1898

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 19 07:18:19 MST 2006


The Ghosts of 1898
Wilmington's race riot and the rise of white supremacy
http://www.newsobserver.com/1370/story/511596.html
Timothy B. Tyson, Special to the News & Observer

On Nov. 10, 1898, heavily armed columns of white men marched into the 
black neighborhoods of Wilmington. In the name of white supremacy, 
this well-ordered mob burned the offices of the local black 
newspaper, murdered perhaps dozens of black residents -- the precise 
number isn't known -- and banished many successful black citizens and 
their so-called "white nigger" allies. A new social order was born in 
the blood and the flames, rooted in what The News and Observer's 
publisher, Josephus Daniels, heralded as "permanent good government 
by the party of the White Man."

The Wilmington race riot of 1898 stands as one of the most important 
chapters in North Carolina's history. It is also an event of national 
historical significance. Occurring only two years after the Supreme 
Court had sanctioned "separate but equal" segregation in Plessy v. 
Ferguson, the riot marked the embrace of virulent Jim Crow racism, 
not merely in Wilmington, but across the United States.

Despite its importance, the riot has remained a hidden chapter in our 
state's history. It was only this year that North Carolina completed 
its official investigation of the violence. In addition to providing 
a thorough history of the event, the report of the Wilmington Race 
Riot Commission recommended payments to descendants of victims. And 
it advised media outlets, including The News & Observer, to tell the 
people the truth about 1898.

Those truths include that what occurred in Wilmington on that chilly 
autumn morning was not a spontaneous outbreak of mob violence. It 
was, instead, the climax of a carefully orchestrated statewide 
campaign led by some of the leading figures in North Carolina's 
history to end interracial cooperation and build a one-party state 
that would assure the power of North Carolina's business elite.

The black-white coalition

At the end of the 19th century, Wilmington was a symbol of black 
hope. Thanks to its busy port, the black majority city was North 
Carolina's largest and most important municipality. Blacks owned 10 
of the city's 11 eating houses and 20 of its 22 barbershops. The 
black male literacy rate was higher than that of whites.

Black achievement, however, was always fragile. Wealthy whites were 
willing to accept some black advancement, so long as they held the 
reins of power. Through the Democratic Party, whites controlled the 
state and local governments from 1876 to 1894. However, the party's 
coalition of wealthy, working class and rural whites began to unravel 
in the late 1880s as America plunged into depression.

North Carolina became a hotbed of agrarian revolt as hard-pressed 
farmers soured on the Democrats because of policies that cottoned to 
banks and railroads. Many white dissidents eventually founded the 
People's Party, also known as the Populists. Soon they imagined what 
had been unimaginable: an alliance with blacks, who shared their 
economic grievances.

As the economic depression deepened, these white Populists joined 
forces with black Republicans, forming an interracial "Fusion" 
coalition that championed local self-government, free public 
education and electoral reforms that would give black men the same 
voting rights as whites. In the 1894 and 1896 elections, the Fusion 
movement won every statewide office, swept the legislature and 
elected its most prominent white leader, Daniel Russell, to the governorship.

In Wilmington, the Fusion triumph lifted black and white Republicans 
and white Populists to power. Horrified white Democrats vowed to 
regain control of the government.

Race baiting fuels vote

As the 1898 political season loomed, the Populists and Republicans 
hoped to make more gains through Fusion. To rebound, Democrats knew 
they had to develop campaign issues that transcended party lines. 
Democratic chairman Furnifold Simmons mapped out the strategy with 
leaders whose names would be immortalized in statues, building names 
and street signs: Charles B. Aycock, Henry G. Connor, Robert B. 
Glenn, Claude Kitchin, Locke Craig, Cameron Morrison, George 
Rountree, Francis D. Winston and Josephus Daniels.

They soon decided that racist appeals were the hammer they needed to 
shatter the fragile alliance between poor whites and blacks. They 
made the "redemption" of North Carolina from "Negro domination" the 
theme of the 1898 campaign. Though promising to restore something 
traditional, they would, in fact, create a new social order rooted in 
white supremacy and commercial domination.

At the center of their strategy lay the gifts and assets of Daniels, 
editor and publisher of The News and Observer. He would spearhead a 
propaganda effort that would incite white citizens into a furor that 
led to electoral fraud and mass murder. It used sexualized images of 
black men and their supposedly uncontrollable lust for white women. 
Newspaper stories and stump speeches warned of "black beasts" who 
threatened the flower of Southern womanhood.

The Democrats did not rely solely upon newspapers, however, but 
deployed a statewide campaign of stump speakers, torchlight parades 
and physical intimidation. Aycock earned his chance to become North 
Carolina's "education governor" through his fiery speeches for white supremacy.

Issue of race and sex

As in the rest of the state, Wilmington Democrats founded their 
campaign upon propaganda, violence and fraud. Their efforts to 
persuade white men to commit wholesale violence was made easier in 
August 1898 when Alexander Manly, the black owner of The Daily 
Record, answered a speech supporting lynchings. Not all interracial 
sex is rape, he noted; many white women willingly sleep with black men.

For Democrats, Manly's editorial was a godsend, allowing them to 
support their lies about predatory blacks. And no one was better at 
spreading that message of hate and violence than Wilmington's Alfred Waddell.

The former Confederate soldier was a passionate speaker, who riled 
crowds with his famous line: "We will never surrender to a ragged 
raffle of Negroes, even if we have to choke the Cape Fear River with 
carcasses."

As Waddell spoke, the Red Shirts, a paramilitary arm of the 
Democratic Party, thundered across the state on horseback, disrupting 
African-American church services and Republican meetings. In 
Wilmington, the Red Shirts patrolled every street in the days before 
the election, intimidating and attacking black citizens.

Through these efforts, the Democrats won resounding victories across 
the state on Nov. 8, 1898.

Stealing the election would not be enough for the conservatives. For 
one thing, Wilmington's local Fusionist government remained in 
office. Many local officials -- the mayor and the board of aldermen, 
for example -- had not been up for re-election in 1898. And 
Wilmington remained the center of African-American economic and 
political power, as well as a symbol of black pride. White Democrats 
were in no mood to wait.

The day after the election, Waddell unfurled a "White Declaration of 
Independence" that called for the disfranchisement of black voters.

The following morning, Nov. 10, Waddell and a heavily armed crowd of 
about 2,000 marched to Love and Charity Hall, where the Record had 
been published. The mob battered down the door of the two-story frame 
structure, dumped kerosene on the wooden floors, and set the building ablaze.

Soon the streets filled with angry blacks and whites. Red Shirts on 
horseback poured into the black community and other white vigilantes 
romped through the black sections of town to "kill every damn nigger 
in sight," as one of them put it.

At the end of the day, no one knew how many people had died -- 
estimates ranged from nine to 300. The only certainty in the matter 
of casualties is that democracy was gravely wounded on the streets of 
Wilmington.

While the violence raged, white leaders launched a coup d'etat, 
forcing the mayor, the board of aldermen, and the police chief to 
resign at gunpoint. By 4 p.m. that day, Waddell was Wilmington's mayor.

Still, they were not done. The white mob gathered at the city jail to 
watch soldiers with fixed bayonets march Fusionist leaders to the 
train station, banishing at least 21 successful blacks and their 
white allies from the city.

Effects of 1898 linger

When the new legislature met in 1899, its first order of business was 
to disfranchise blacks. In the years that followed, the leaders of 
the white supremacy campaign were largely responsible for the birth 
of the Jim Crow social order and the rise of a one-party political system.

More than a century later, it is clear that the white supremacy 
campaign of 1898 injected a vicious racial ideology into American 
political culture that we have yet to transcend fully. Our separate 
and unequal lives attest to the fact, though much has changed for the 
better and a few things have changed for the worse.

But if 1898 has saddled us with its legacy, it also suggests how we 
might overcome it. Its central lesson is this: Human beings make 
history. So the mistakes that North Carolinians made in 1898 can be 
overcome, if we choose.

Timothy B. Tyson is senior research scholar at the Center for 
Documentary Studies at Duke University. This is a condensed version 
of an article he wrote for The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer.

The day after the election, Waddell unfurled a "White Declaration of 
Independence" that called for the disfranchisement of black voters.

The following morning, Nov. 10, Waddell and a heavily armed crowd of 
about 2,000 marched to Love and Charity Hall, where the Record had 
been published. The mob battered down the door of the two-story frame 
structure, dumped kerosene on the wooden floors, and set the building ablaze.

Soon the streets filled with angry blacks and whites. Red Shirts on 
horseback poured into the black community and other white vigilantes 
romped through the black sections of town to "kill every damn nigger 
in sight," as one of them put it.

At the end of the day, no one knew how many people had died -- 
estimates ranged from nine to 300. The only certainty in the matter 
of casualties is that democracy was gravely wounded on the streets of 
Wilmington.

While the violence raged, white leaders launched a coup d'etat, 
forcing the mayor, the board of aldermen, and the police chief to 
resign at gunpoint. By 4 p.m. that day, Waddell was Wilmington's mayor.

Still, they were not done. The white mob gathered at the city jail to 
watch soldiers with fixed bayonets march Fusionist leaders to the 
train station, banishing at least 21 successful blacks and their 
white allies from the city.

Effects of 1898 linger

When the new legislature met in 1899, its first order of business was 
to disfranchise blacks. In the years that followed, the leaders of 
the white supremacy campaign were largely responsible for the birth 
of the Jim Crow social order and the rise of a one-party political system.

More than a century later, it is clear that the white supremacy 
campaign of 1898 injected a vicious racial ideology into American 
political culture that we have yet to transcend fully. Our separate 
and unequal lives attest to the fact, though much has changed for the 
better and a few things have changed for the worse.

But if 1898 has saddled us with its legacy, it also suggests how we 
might overcome it. Its central lesson is this: Human beings make 
history. So the mistakes that North Carolinians made in 1898 can be 
overcome, if we choose.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, 
broadcast or redistributed in any manner.
Timothy B. Tyson is senior research scholar at the Center for 
Documentary Studies at Duke University. This is a condensed version 
of an article he wrote for The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer.





More information about the Marxism mailing list